THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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3 posts categorized "Albania"

12 July 2016

Balkan Day II in Drawings by Ian Long

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The south-eastern countries of the Balkans were in focus of Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories, a public event held at the British Library on 24 June 2016.

The Balkans is home to a great number of fascinating stories and traditions, many of which remain untold in English. This event brought together some of the leading contemporary academics, writers and translators who talked about writing and creating in this fertile cultural space.

The event featured a range of authors, translators, publishers and others speaking on various topics.  Artist Ian Long captured the speakers in the course of the day, and some of his portraits are reproduced below. You can also hear some of the talks from the event here.

In the first two keynote speeches, Kapka Kassabova (below) spoke on the theme Borderland: Notes from a Journey to Europes Last Frontier, where Bulgaria and Turkey Meet, and Robert Elsie described The Chaotic Course of Albanian Literature.

Kapka Kassabova 2

 In a session chaired by poet and editor Fiona Sampson, Ioana Parvulescu and Alek Popov spoke on the theme of Authors as Cultural Ambassadors: How does the history and mythology of the homeland influence the stories we tell today?


Ioana Parvulescu 2
Ioana Parvulescu

A panel of translators - John Hodgson, Christopher Buxton, Stephen Watts and Mevlut Ceylan, with Christina Pribichevich Zoric in the chair - reflected on the question ‘Should translators of ‘small languages’ aim to be invisible or consider themselves a second author?’ in a session entitled Bringing the Balkans Westward. 

John hodgson
John Hodgson 

Christopher Buxton

Christopher Buxton

Christina Pribichevich Zoric 2
Christina Pribichevich Zoric

The event ended with a screening of the film Balkan Spirit, followed by a discussion with its director Hermann Vaske.


Ian Long

Ian Long is a writer and graphic artist. He is keen to take drawing out into the world and see what it can do, in the widest possible variety of situations.

 

23 June 2016

Literary Translation: Whose Voice is it Anyway?

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Speaking about the translator who introduced Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov to the English reading audience, Joseph Brodsky, once wrote: “The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky is that they aren’t reading the prose of either one. They’re reading Constance Garnett.” On the other hand, there have been instances where a translation is said to be better than the original.

Kadare

    Front cover of Ismail Kadare, The Wedding. Rendered into English by Ali Cungu. (Tirana, 1968). X.908/16616.

So, whose voice is the reader hearing when reading a novel, or a poem, in translation – the author’s or the translator’s? How faithful to the original should a translation be? To what degree should the translation be “adjusted” or “improved” to facilitate its reading by the target audience?

Ghost

 Typescript. Front cover of  William B. Bland, The ghost at the wedding. Based on the novel “The wedding” by Ismail Kadare. (Ilford, 1969). X.950/13209.

These are questions that apply to literary translation from any language, of course, but they are especially relevant when translating from so-called smaller languages, where the context, references, and even style and rhythm may be alien to the foreign reading public.

Arghezi

Frontispiece. Arghezi’s self-portrait. From Tudor Arghezi, Flori de Mucigai. Cu un autoportret inedit. (Bucharest, 1931). RB.23.a.20598.

On 24 June, Balkan Day at the British Library, I will be chairing a panel of literary translators who have introduced the English-speaking world to some of the best writing that Southeastern Europe has to offer. We will be discussing their approaches to literary translation and whether they think of literary translation as craft or creation. And who better to tell us than Christopher Buxton, author of two novels and translator of numerous contemporary and classical Bulgarian novelists and poets; the Turkish poet Melvut Ceylan, who lives in London and has translated both Turkish poetry into English and English poetry into Turkish; John Hodgson, who has brought us, among others, the work of Ismail Kadare and is one of only a few translators to be working directly from Albanian into English; and the poet Stephen Watts, whose many translations of poetry include the work of the surrealist Romanian poet Gellu Naum and Tudor Arghezi.

Naum

 Frontispiece. Naum’s portrait by Victor Brauner. From Gellu Naum, Culoarul somnului. Cu un desen de Victor Brauner. (Bucharest, 1944). YA.2000.a.8782.

I know this is going to be a very lively discussion. How do I know? I’m a literary translator myself.

Christina Pribichevich Zorić, Former Chief of Conference and Language Services at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

 

16 June 2016

What’s in a Name? Looking forward to Balkan Day 2

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The Balkans have had some bad press: from the verb ‘balkanize’, frequently used during the wars of the 1990s, which describes the process of fragmentation or division of a region to the frequent coupling with pejorative words like ‘feud’ or ‘bloodshed’. But when you look at it more objectively, why should a region as rich and varied as the Balkans be classified by violence any more than a area like Alsace-Lorraine, which has surely seen its fair share?

Balkans
The Balkan Peninsula (detail) by Jovan Cvijic (London, 1920). Maps X.4391

In the end, it all comes down to PR and perception. While Alsatian wine, gastronomy and chateaux are well-known tourist attractions, the Balkan countries also have their culinary delights, their liqueurs and their share of palaces, be they Austro-Hungarian or Venetian. When Istros published Faruk Sehic’s transformational novel based on memories of his beloved river Una, the title of the book had to be changed from the original Book of the Una to Quiet Flows the Una in order to indicate the name of a river unfamiliar to English readers. The same problem would not have occurred for a book written about the Rhine. Likewise, people feel alienated by stories from Skopje and Sofia, simply because they reach our public consciousness far less often than Strasbourg.

Balkan Mountains
“Balkan Mountains (© iStock) 

Balkan Day 2014 was billed as ‘a celebration of culture and identity’ and featured regional writers like Dubravka Ugresic, Andrej Nikolaidis and Muharem Bazdulj, among others. This was the first step of an initiative on behalf of Istros Books and the British Library to promote and raise awareness of the region and its culture here in the UK and to raise awareness.

Balkan Day I was greatly appreciated in academic and literary circles, and it is our great hope that this year’s follow-on event  will be just as popular, as we welcome Bulgarian/British writer Kapka Kassabova and the poet Fiona Sampson as well as translators Christopher Buxton, Mevlut Ceylan and Stephen Watts to Balkan Day II: A Rich Heritage of Stories. It will also be an opportunity to view the screening of Hermann Vaske’s riotous documentary film, Balkan Spirit, a film which is rarely shown in the UK but which goes a long way towards breaking down stereotypes and highlighting the positives. The director himself is coming along to this special screening and will be available for a Q&A afterwards, before an open-mike session where all participants and guests can voice their own experiences and thoughts.

In both events, we focused on local literature and translation of those stories into English, in order to highlight the links between the cultures, and the efforts being made to build cultural bridges to further understanding of a much-maligned region. At the recent UK launch of the above-mentioned Bosnian novel, Joseph Cock of Today’s Translations gave us an historical reminder of those links:

‘Perhaps translation in the Balkans has a far greater historical pedigree than we recognise. After all, Jerome, the patron saint of translators, hailed from Illyria, the name given to the Balkan Peninsula in Classical Antiquity.’

However, he goes on to point out a fact we know too well:

‘Yet despite the multitude of stories waiting to be told from the recent history of this region, the literature remains woefully underrepresented to English-speaking audiences.’

Bulgarian rug
Bulgarian rug  (© iStock)

On 24 June the British public] will have the rare opportunity to hear the only two Albanian to English literary translators working today: Robert Elsie and John Hodgson, without whom the UK reader would not have been introduced to the novels of Nobel-nominated Ismail Kadare, or heard the voice of one of Albania’s best-known political dissidents, Fatos Lubonja. There will also be the chance to hear about how the stories of their respective homelands affect the writings of Bulgarian comic author, Alek Popov, and Romania’s Ioana Parvulescu, who is also an historian at Bucharest University. Her broad knowledge of fin-de-siecle Bucharest, of the whims and charms of people of that age, make this an enchanting book and a wonderful example to life in Europe at that time. In both cases, the stories these authors have to tell open new worlds and new perceptions to readers who may have shied away from literature in translation.

Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, Istros Books